Presented on Wednesday, June 14, 2017 at the Park Church. Molly Ball is an Assistant Professor of English at Eureka College. She received her PhD in 2016 from the University of California at Davis, and she is currently at work on a book manuscript, tentatively titled, “Writing Out of Time: Temporal Vulnerability in Nineteenth-Century Narrative,” that explores narrative structure in Anglophone literature. She is particularly interested in questions about national identity and travel, and these questions draw her to Mark Twain – one of the century’s most well-traveled writers. She recently published an essay on Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl in ESQ: A Journal of Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Culture, and her reviews have appeared in Early American Literature and GLQ.
Mark Twain lived in an age of high nationalism. Twain’s lifetime (1835 to 1910) spanned decades in which many new nations emerged and competed for cultural prestige and political prominence. The pervasive nationalism of the nineteenth century raises questions about what exactly constitutes nationhood – what did the term mean in this period, and what allows a political entity to claim the status of nation? As a world traveler and keen social observer, Twain was poised to offer insight into such questions. This lecture will address Twain’s approach to nationhood in work that comes out of his 1866 trip to the Hawaiian Kingdom. In letters written for a Sacramento newspaper, Twain reflects on Hawaiian society in a moment in which Native Hawaiians sought to make their Kingdom legible to foreigners as a sovereign nation. By casting themselves as national, self-governing subjects, Native Hawaiians sought to ward off other nations’ attempts to make the Islands into an imperial holding. As Twain depicts Hawaiian scenes and settings, he troubles nationalist thought (dominant in the West in this period) which holds that national identity resides in a culturally homogenous citizenry.